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Politics
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Buttigieg Tells Rock Hill That Democrats Win With Outsiders Like Himself

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STEVE HARRISON
/
WFAE
Pete Buttigieg campaigns Saturday in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg campaigned Saturday in downtown Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Buttigieg, who is 37, is campaigning as a generational change – and also as a moderate in a campaign where liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been rising. 

There were two moments in Buttigieg’s town hall that summed up his campaign.

One was a question about what’s known as "MFA" versus "MFAWWI."

The first is Medicare For All – the plan supported by Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders – which would eliminate private insurance. The other is known as Medicare For All Who Would Want It, which would create a public option for anyone but would allow people to stay on private insurance.

"When you are talking about something as important as your health care, I think a little bit of humility would be in order," Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg, who supports the Medicare For All Who Would Want It plan, was taking a swipe at the most liberal Democrats.

"So assuming it’s going to be best fit for everybody and giving you four years to switch and ordering everybody to go from whatever you used to have to the plan I create, I’m going to give you the chance to go to the plan I create," Buttigieg said. "But if for some reason, or at least for some amount of time, you'd rather be on a different one, that’s fine by me, because the important thing is not who is covering you – the important thing is that you get good coverage one way or another."

The other moment was a question about Buttigieg’s youth  and whether the country is ready for such a young president. 

That question – before the mayor even started his answer – gave him the biggest applause of the afternoon.

Buttigieg said candidates like him are the Democrats' best bet.

"Every single time in the last 50 years or so that Democrats have won the Oval Office – I mean every single time – it’s been a candidate who hasn’t been on the scene very long, wasn’t perceived as a creature of Washington, called the country to its highest values and represented a new generation of American leadership," he said. "It’s how we win."

The crowd at the Rock Hill amphitheater was similar in size to Warren’s crowd at Clinton College last month. 

Warren’s crowd was about 80% white, and Buttigieg’s was even more so. Polls have shown the mayor struggling with African American voters, who will likely make up more than half of the Democratic primary in South Carolina.

Buttigieg referenced his Douglass Plan, named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, which is designed to reform the criminal justice system and invest in historically black colleges and universities. But it was not a major part of his 15-minute speech.

A recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll of likely Iowa Democratic caucus attendees had Buttigieg in third place, with 13%. Former vice president Joe Biden was in first with 18 percent and Warren was in second with 17%.

Nathan Ward from Charlotte doesn’t know who he will support in North Carolina’s March 3 primary. He was impressed with Buttigieg staking middle ground in the primary field. 

"I think he’s a moderate is what appeals to me the most, and he definitely seems to be more of a collaborator and someone who wants to bring people together," he said. "That resonates really well, versus not too progressive. The youth is interesting, but that’s not a leading factor for me."

Buttigieg is the first openly gay candidate to mount a major run for president. Though some of the warm-up speakers mentioned his sexuality, Buttigieg did not. He only made a passing reference to LGBT issues, saying people should be free to marry who they want to marry.

Shonna Hurt drove four hours one-way from Bristol, Tennessee, to attend the town hall. She’s a big fan of Buttigieg, and doesn’t care about his sexuality.

"I don’t really think matters in the grand scheme of things," she said. "How he’s going to govern is what matters…who he wants to be married to doesn’t matter. Love is love."

South Carolina’s primary is Feb. 29 – after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada hold caucuses or primaries.

Clarification
This story referred to Buttigieg as “the first openly gay candidate to mount a major run for president.” A reader noted there was another openly gay candidate, Fred Karger, who attempted a major run in 2012. Karger, who sought the Republican nomination, was on the primary ballot a number of states and Puerto Rico.